Where was I?
“My heartbeat was moving so rapidly that I felt like I had just sprinted around a high school track. I broke out into a cold sweat that began to pool in my lower back.
I knew I was going down.“
As I stood there, fully realizing that I was going to pass out, I took out my phone and texted my good friend Marina (who I have known for well over 14 years), “I’m having a panic attack in a Subway”.
Yep, instead of getting out of line to sit down and collect myself, I texted my friend that lives thousands of miles away.
She then texted me back multiple pictures of cute puppies doing cute things because under normal circumstances, those would’ve helped. She wasn’t completely aware that my panic attack included losing consciousness in a fast food joint.
I asked the person behind the counter arranging my sandwich if I could have a cup for water.
“Oh, you’ll get that at the register.”
I asked again, I’m not sure what tone I used because my memory of that particular moment is a bit foggy. She gave me a look, handed me the cup, and I stepped out of line.
I shakily filled the cup and could’ve sworn that my legs had been replaced by two stout columns of wobbly jello.
I sat at a table for two, leaned back against the wall, and tried to stop the room from spinning. I couldn’t hear anything–the sound was too muffled–and all I could manage to tell myself was “Don’t you dare pass out in a Subway. Don’t do it. They’ll call an ambulance, they’ll make a big deal of it. All of your friends are at work, you can’t do that alone. Get back to your apartment.”
Thinking back on it, leaving the Subway probably wasn’t the best plan. Didn’t matter, though, I couldn’t get up out of the chair without feeling like I was going to fall over.
Every time I started to gain clarity, I would gently remind myself, “YOU’RE GOING TO PASS OUT, YOU’RE GOING TO PASS OUT!” and then start to lose it all over again.
As I surveyed the people sitting around me–or, really, made sure no one was calling an ambulance, I noticed something strikingly odd.
No one was noticing.
Or if they did, they averted their attention.
I was no longer in the South where a simple sneeze merits a thousand bless you’s and everyone’s face shows concern for what probably is just allergies.
Here I am, a young female, not well dressed but certainly not slovenly, acting erratically. No one offered a second glance or even asked if I was ok. In fact, one of the girls at the register had another customer approach me and ask if I was ready to pay. While my head was in my hands and I squinted at the poor teenaged messenger, I wondered what the cashier’s deal was. I was obviously in distress and instead of offering assistance, she is asking me for my money. Later, my friend Blake would remind me that, “this is LA. They probably see crazy stuff everyday.”
After what felt like an eternity later, my vision had come back (just barely) and I noticed that I had yet to black out. I stood up, gathered my belongings, and hobbled out of the store. I called Marina on the phone and she graciously accompanied me via telephone for the walk–where I again reminded myself that I was having a panic attack and started to drift off.
Marina asked nervously, “Are you walking down the actual street or are you…”
“I’m on the sidewalk.”
I couldn’t talk much, on account of the fact that talking apparently takes a lot of energy when you don’t have total control over your faculties, so I tried to listen to her tell me a wonderful story about a hot young Brazilian in her office.
That girl knows how to keep me focused.
I returned to my apartment, hung up the phone, and quickly took off my clothes (something I never do besides when I’m in the shower because I get anxious thinking about being naked during an earthquake and having the Rescue Team find me in my birthday suit). [Sorry if you’re getting undesired mental imagery. It comes with the story].
“Ok. Pass out,” I commanded myself.
It figures. When I’m at a location where it’s completely safe and acceptable to faint, my body tells me it’s done holding itself hostage and I’m free to do as I please.
I recovered not too long afterwards, showered, and continued on with my day as if I hadn’t just scared the living daylights out of myself.
I’d never had an anxiety attack that had physically disabled me as much as this instance–I usually just end up curled in a ball, sobbing, and fall asleep. That’s the best case scenario, you guys.
Before I could even begin to feel sorry for myself, I thought about people that had it way worse than me–people who have had to be hospitalized just so they could cope with the unimaginable weight placed on their shoulders by their disorder.
And the worst part is thinking that so many people out there don’t have supportive friends and family that help them get through. I think that a lot of the stigma that comes with having a mental illness is that people just don’t understand. They can’t see your injury and they don’t often get that you can’t just “snap out of it”. There is something in your brain that keeps you from functioning at a normal level.
Here is the answer that most friends of loved ones with these sorts of issues needs to know. The best thing a friend can do in that situation is just say “I’m here, how can I help you?”. That’s it. Just let them know that you’re there and don’t judge them.
I’d love to hear how you have supported a friend with a mental disorder–or if you are the one living with this raw deal, I’d love to hear how your support system has helped you. Leave your story in the comments!